Manitoba premier Brian Pallister chooses words carefully — stresses safety — regarding potential CFL hub

Manitoba premier Brian Pallister was very careful with his words when asked about the possibility of Winnipeg hosting the CFL amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it stands on July 15, Manitoba has counted 330 total coronavirus cases since the virus started its spread, by far the least of any province which has a CFL team inside its borders. It would be the safest place for the three-down league to take the field in a hub city model.

“I’m concerned that we’d be dismissive of the possibility of allowing people to come to our province because there are a lot of other people who have COVID when they don’t. I’d be concerned about that,” Pallister said.

Canada has done well in flattening the curve and causing COVID-19 cases to trend downward. However, the concern would be players travelling into Canada from all over the United States, including places which are currently hotspots for COVID-19.

“I think as long as the precautionary measures and the self-isolation periods and the other recommendations of our health officer are respected and followed, then I think that we’re not in an unreasonable position to offer relative safety. And in offering relative safety, if we can then advance our economy and our social lives, then that’s a good thing,” Pallister said.

Athletes who are within Canadian borders and travel to Manitoba must self isolate for seven days under the team guidelines with frequent testing during that time period and the following seven days they are self isolating other than team activities.

Manitoba citizens, Pallister and provincial chief public health officer Brent Roussin have played major roles in keeping the virus contained to small numbers and almost non-existent in the province. The CFL has Winnipeg atop its rankings of possible temporary homes for return to play, if the lengthy list of details can be worked out.

“Yes, I do miss my sports — I do. But I don’t think there’s a day coming very soon where we’re going to have the ability to get back in the stands and cheer on the Bombers to that next Grey Cup. I’m realistic about this and I think all Manitobans must be,” Pallister said.

The CFL regular season was scheduled to kick-off on Thursday, June 11, but commissioner Randy Ambrosie has stated the earliest the league might return to play is September for a shortened season. 

“Dr. Roussin has said it repeatedly: the day of big public gatherings isn’t here yet. But that doesn’t mean the day of a broadcast, simulcast possibility of watching football should never come,” Pallister said.

“So I think we can draw the distinction here and realize we must maintain safety on the one hand, but we can’t let our fears cause us to remove every aspect of our lives. We’ll have more to say on that in due course when there’s something to say.”